Steve Alford leaves New Mexico for UCLA job

From - Steve Alford said in press conference Saturday that he will leave the New Mexico Lobos head coaching position to lead the UCLA men's basketball team. “It’s been a very hard 48-hours, the toughest decision I have had to make, maybe ever,” Alford said. “That’s because of how much I love this place, UNM, Albuquerque. It really came down to make a decision to go to UCLA, it’s the pinnacle of college basketball.”
     Alford said UCLA approached him with the opportunity to lead the Bruins. “It wasn’t something I went looking for, UCLA sought me out. I think it is a great compliment that UCLA wants something from New Mexico,” he said.
     UCLA first confirmed the decision in a tweet sent out at around 10 a.m., "UCLA is thrilled to welcome Steve Alford and his family to Westwood." UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said, "Steve embodies everything we are looking for in a head coach. He’s passionate, dedicated, experienced and enthusiastic. "
     In another tweet sent out by UCLA, Alford expressed joy in the move, "I’m grateful to Dan Guerrero and chancellor Gene Block for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My family and I are very excited." Alford recently signed a 10-year contract extension with New Mexico that included a $1 million buyout option of his contract if he were to leave. However, that didn't take effect until April 1, which means UCLA might have to pay $150,000 to buyout Alford's UNM contract.
     “I thought I was going to be here a long time, I had just signed a 10-year contract, that was the plan, I had no idea that this opportunity would present itself,” Alford said. Athletic Director Paul Krebs said Alford assistant Craig Neal is the interim head coach. Alford offered his support for Neal to take over the head coaching position. “Coach Neal is ready,” Alford said.
     UCLA will formally announce the hire on Tuesday. In his six seasons at New Mexico, Alford led the Lobos to the postseason each year, including three trips to the NCAA Tournament. Read more

Thousands rally during National Day of Action, urge gun control

From - "Shame on us," President Obama said Thursday. "If we've forgotten the kids killed at Newtown." Still, his push for gun control is in trouble. Fewer Americans want stricter regulation of firearms.
     Rallies were held across the country Thursday, part of the push by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's's for tougher laws. The campaign includes television ads featuring Newtown parents as well.
     The goal: A ban of assault weapons and high capacity magazines and comprehensive background checks. There were counter-demonstrations as well. "It's my right to have this firearm and I don't have to defend, to show a need for this firearm to own it," shouted one man carrying an assault rifle at one rally.
     After 20 children died in the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in December support for stricter gun control surged, but it's dropped 9 to 10 points in new polls. President Obama tried to reawaken the outrage during an address at the White House.
     "Why wouldn't we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40% of all gun purchases to take place without a background check?" he asked.  On that least controversial proposal, backed by 80% in some polls, at least six senate democrats from conservative states could vote no.
     Democrat Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said, "We can go after and prosecute criminals without the need to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding North Dakotans." That leaves a defeat in Congress on gun control looking more likely. Read more

Gov. signs meeting agenda change into law

New Mexicans will have more notice about public meetings under legislation that has been signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez. 
Governmental groups, ranging from city councils to school boards and state regulators, will be required to make their meeting agendas publicly available 72 hours in advance. They currently must provide a 24-hour notice of a public meeting agenda.
 Supporters say the new law will foster greater openness in government and may allow more people to attend meetings by giving them a longer notice of what will be discussed or acted upon.
 The measure takes effect June 14.


Aggie football moves to the Sun Belt Conference

 The Aggie football program made it official Wednesday, announcing its move to the Sun Belt Conference as a football-only member for the 2014 season. 

Such a transition seemed almost essential, with the program set to play an independent schedule in 2013 after the WAC folded as a football conference. 

 During a Wednesday evening press conference at the school, NMSU Athletics Director McKinley Boston said providing a structured schedule with guaranteed home and away conference games was the No. 1 benefit of getting re-secured in an FBS league. 

The Aggies and the University of Idaho were announced as football members into the Sun Belt, moves that were made in conjunction with the additions of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern as conference members in all sports. 

Such additions allows the Sun Belt to get closer to a 12-team football model, with a football-championship game at season's end.


Santa Fe introduces same sex marriage resolution

Wednesday night, Santa Fe Mayor David Coss introduced a resolution saying same-sex marriage marriage is legal in this state.
 The resolution recognizes same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico and encourages New Mexico county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 
But not everyone in attendance was on-board with recognizing marriage as the term for any two people in love. 
The resolution alone does not have a lot of teeth, but supporters are hoping it will encourage the Attorney General to issue an opinion on whether marriage licenses can be issued to same-sex couples.


CNM to resume publication of student newspaper

From - Central New Mexico Community College has decided to resume publication of the student newspaper the CNM Chronicle. The school had suspended publication of the paper Tuesday and Wednesday in response to an issue that focused on sexual orientation and other sex-related topics.
     The CNM publications board met Wednesday and made the decision to resume publishing the paper beginning Thursday. In a statement issued on CNM's website Wednesday, President Katherine Winograd said the school pulled the papers because a high school student was included in the issue. The school, she said, needed to research the legal implications of having a minor in their publication.
     She said the school was giving confiscated papers back to the newspaper staff.
     Chronicle Editor-inChief Jyllian Roach was pleased with the decision. "We're really really happy with the college's decision, we're excited to see that we're back on and that we get to go back to printing and won't have to stop our publication," Roach said. Read more

Without water there is no New Mexico Green Chile

© 2013 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. An Old West saying goes: Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting. Well, New Mexico is in a fight for its very life and it is about water. There is not enough water for New Mexico’s Agriculture Industry. Without Agriculture jobs then the human capital of farm and ranch production leave the state, perhaps, forever. New Mexico is not New Mexico without Agriculture. Without water there is no Green Chile, or at least no New Mexico Green Chile. Water talks and everything else walks.
     While there may be enough water for coffee making and toilet flushing; it will not be enough to keep New Mexico Agriculture viable since Agriculture runs on lots of water. We are in the fourth year of a severe drought. Even in good years New Mexico gets ten or less inches of moisture. Native plants are fine but it is not enough for farmers who measure their water needs in acre feet.
     During droughts runoff is negligible. So the majority of the water is pumped. As water is increasingly pumped there is a net-loss of water from aquifers. Pumping must slow down or stop because those aquifers are dwindling, not to mention the lawsuits from Texas trying to take the last of our water. Texas could own all of our Agriculture water because of their lawsuits. Then what?
     At risk are all non-native trees such as the pecan orchards which must be watered or die. Also, when the farmland goes fallow, there is a risk the farmers will just quit the business. Alfalfa is grown, harvested and transported in New Mexico by an army of highly skilled workers. Stop planting that crop and those people and machines move somewhere else.
     Connected to those problems are the livestock producers who depend on alfalfa to supplementally feed their grazing animals. With less acres planted over the last decade the price of alfalfa has risen dramatically. Ranchers have had to go to slaughter with their animals because they could not afford to feed them. With good feed prices the legacy livestock can economically stay on the ranches to create the next generation of New Mexico livestock. These animals form the basis of our livestock future. However, when cattle operations have to sell off their herds, the years of research developing the right animals for our New Mexico climate is lost.
     Likewise, high feed costs endanger the milk and cheese producers who feel the increased cost of feeding milk cows. Further, when New Mexico Agriculture stops shipping food there are two problems: first, the money from these Agricultural operations is lost to New Mexico, and, secondly, we no longer control our food supply. Yes, we can buy food from other American producers, but increasingly we see our food coming from areas of the world that do not say, God Bless America. Bells should ring warning us of danger. Read column

Radon found in state office building in Santa Fe

Government officials are advising workers to stay out of part of a nearly 80-year-old state office building in Santa Fe to avoid exposure to radon. 
Attorney General Gary King said Tuesday that workers in his agency temporarily will not use a section of the Villagra Building, which was built as a New Deal project during the Great Depression. The building is connected to a newer complex for the attorney general's office. 
General Services Department spokesman Tim Korte said elevated levels of radon were detected in the building's basement and corrective measures are planned. Radon wasn't a problem in other parts of the building. 
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas and enters buildings through basements and foundation cracks. The Environmental Protection Agency says radon exposure can cause lung cancer.


Wolf-dog hybrid found near Reserve

Federal wildlife managers have been working to return the endangered Mexican gray wolf to the American Southwest for the past 15 years. 
Every now and then, there's a genetic hiccup. It happens when a wolf breeds with a domestic dog, producing a litter of hybridized pups. 
Just last month, an animal that looked like a wolf was spotted in the mountain community of Reserve near the Arizona-New Mexico border. Experts with the wolf management team say the uncollared animal was most likely a wolf-dog hybrid. 
While it doesn't happen often, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says hybridization is a concern. 


With national attention, Gov. doesn't budge on marriage equality

While the U.S. Supreme Court mulls over California’s same-sex marriage law, New Mexico remains a state that does not allow or recognize those marriages.
 Same-sex marriage legislation died in the recent session of the state legislature, and supporters vow they’ll be back next year, but opposition remains strong. 
While polls show many Americans have changed their minds on gay marriage in recent years, there’s one New Mexico opponent who remains in a very powerful position – and she hasn’t changed her mind one bit. 
Gov. Susana Martinez campaigned as a backer of traditional marriage, and she’s still that way today. During the 60 day legislative session New Mexicans on both sides of the issue jammed the committee rooms at the State Capitol, hoping to testify. 
The legislation died in committee before the end of the session. Even if the legislature does pass same-sex marriage, the governor retains veto power. 
Martinez said she is closely following what the Supreme Court does in the California case to see what impact it will have on New Mexico.


Gov. signs legislation for online professional license renewal

Susana Martinez

Engineers, nurses and professionals in other fields will be able to apply for and renew their state licenses online under legislation that's been signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez.
The governor said Monday the state Regulation and Licensing Department estimates the current paper-based licensing system costs nearly $300,000 in postage and other supplies.
The state hopes to speed up the licensing system and reduce costs by allowing agencies to accept applications and renewals online.
The measure was approved by lawmakers during the recently completed 60-day session of the Legislature.


Senator Udall in NM this week

Tom Udall 

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is scheduled this week to visit southeastern New Mexico to discuss drought, energy policy and agricultural issues.
The New Mexico Democrat is slated Tuesday to participate in a panel on agricultural and drought issues at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. Udall is then expected to visit with Roswell-area veterans to get an update on health care and transportation issues.
The senator also is schedule Wednesday to visit the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia to talk border security, training and enforcement issues with Indian County Law Enforcement, Border Patrol, and other federal agentss.
Later in the week Udall will visit New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs for an announcement on a new technology education partnership.


Fires and smoking prohibited on state lands

Ray Powell

State Land Commissioner Ray Powell is prohibiting smoking, open fires and fireworks on state trust land because of the risk of wildfires.
Powell announced the restrictions on Monday. He said the potential for human-caused fires is high because of drought conditions as well as recent high winds.
The Land Office manages nine million acres of state-owned land and 13 million acres of subsurface rights to oil, natural gas and minerals.
Revenue from grazing, mining and oil and gas production on state trust lands helps support public schools and other state institutions.
Powell said the Legislature approved $500,000 for the Land Office starting in July to reduce fire risks by thinning forests and other prevention efforts.


Santa Fe Police Department offering free gun locks

From - Santa Fe Police Chief Raymond Rael announced Monday that his department is offering free trigger locks to City of Santa Fe residents to ensure public safety. The trigger locks will be handed out free of charge on a first-come, first-serve basis while supplies last at the main Santa Fe Police Station at 2515 Camino Entrada off Cerrillos Road. They will be available at the front desk Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
     “Residents with firearms in their homes must take common sense steps to avoid accidental shootings,” said Chief Raymond Rael. “The Police Department encourages storing weapons locked and unloaded with ammunition secured in a separate place.”
     Santa Fe’s Public Safety Committee unanimously passed a resolution earlier this month recommending that all city gun stores sell trigger locks with every firearm. Current law states only new guns are required to be sold with them.
      The resolution recommends any gun sold, old or new, in Santa Fe includes the simple device which prevents the gun from accidentally firing. The resolution was amended to include weapons purchased at pawn shops and other businesses. The resolution simply encourages gun shops to obey. It is not currently illegal in the city to sell a used gun without a trigger lock. Read more


Group in Santa Fe to give Gov. min. wage petitions

A group called Working America says it will be in Santa Fe today to try and persuade Gov. Susana Martinez to sign a minimum wage increase. 
The group says it will deliver thousands of photo petitions and petition signatures to the governor's office in support of a just-passed Senate Bill to increase the state's minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour. 
Martinez has said she opposes the bill because it would make the state's minimum wage the fourth highest in the nation. She says she told lawmakers she would support raising the minimum wage to $7.80 an hour, the same as Arizona, but that the full dollar-an-hour increase was simply unsustainable.


State sees drop in TB cases

New Mexico health officials say there has been a drop in the number of tuberculosis cases in the state. 

The state Health Department says there were a total of 40 cases of active tuberculosis diagnosed in New Mexico in 2012. That's down from 49 cases the previous year. The rate of tuberculosis in New Mexico stands at 1.9 cases per 100,000 people. The national rate is more than 3 cases per 100,000 people. 

Despite the good news, health officials say New Mexico is still experiencing a higher than average TB mortality rate of 15 percent. Nationally, the mortality rate stands at 4 percent. 

The signs and symptoms of infectious active TB include a persistent cough, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, fatigue and loss of appetite.


FAA says Santa Fe airport will lose control tower

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that Santa Fe is among 149 airports around the country set to lose funding for their air traffic control towers because of federal budget cuts.
 It was not immediately clear what impact the cuts will have on the state capital and mountain tourism destination, which has just in the past few years won back commercial jet service. 
American Airlines currently has daily flights between Santa Fe and Dallas and Los Angeles, and United plans to begin service to Denver later this spring. 
Double Eagle, a general aviation airport in west Albuquerque, is also losing tower funding.


President to designate Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

Retired U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman and U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich will join President Obama at a National Monument Proclamations Signing Ceremony in the Oval Office on Monday to establish the Río Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico as a U.S. National Monument. 
 In 2007, now-retired Senator Jeff Bingaman's office began working with residents of Taos and Rio Arriba Counties to identify how to best protect the land. 
Since then, Bingaman, Sens. Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján have worked to advance legislation through Congress to protect the area and asked the White House to consider a monument designation. 


Family of man shot by neighbor says he was murdered

From - ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The family of a man shot by a neighbor in a northwest Albuquerque neighborhood says he was murdered. They say the man who shot 23-year-old Jonathan Mitchell was trying to play cop – and ended up gunning down a veteran.
     Police say residents in the Ventana Ranch neighborhood called 911 after Mitchell was seen standing in a neighbor’s driveway holding a gun. The neighbors also called neighbor Donnie Pearson for assistance. Pearson later pulled in front of Mitchell’s house and the two exchanged gunfire – with Mitchell firing first. Mitchell died from the gunshot wound.
     “This case almost mirrors the George Zimmerman case,” said Aaron Mitchell, Jonathan’s older brother and a Florida police officer. “[Pearson] had no business driving around looking for an armed assailant. That's not his job.”
     Mitchell’s brother Aaron Mitchell, a police officer in Florida, says APD was too quick to portray Pearson as a Good Samaritan. “My brother did fire first. But he fired because he saw a threat. He's military trained. He's a combat veteran,” he said.
     The family doesn’t know why Mitchell would have been in the neighbor’s driveway with a gun. “I think if those concerns were valid, I think a reasonable thing for a citizen to do is to call those who are sworn to protect, not take matters into their own hands,” his father Isaac said.
     APD will turn the results of its investigation over to the DA for a decision on charges. Read more

Senate committee may hold summer hearing on Skandera

From the Santa Fe New Mexican - by Robert Nott - The Senate Rules Committee may continue its confirmation hearing for Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera sometime this spring or summer. But even so, Skandera would have to wait until the next legislative session in early 2014 before the full Senate body can vote on her confirmation.
     During the recent 60-day legislative session, the Rules Committee held about 10 hours of testimony and questioning over three days of confirmation hearings on Skandera. But it didn't finish the process.
     The committee can vote to recommend or not recommend confirmation, but the full Senate makes the final call. If the Senate does not confirm Skandera, she will be fired from the position. Until that vote goes to the Senate floor, Skandera may continue to serve as secretary-designate. Read more

Swickard: Happy cows and citizens

© 2013 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. Our country is basically a happy country. What is the source of our happiness? Capitalism is the core of our happiness. Consider this: New Mexico has the happiest cows in our country. I do not make that claim lightly. I have it on good authority that when you see New Mexico milk cows they are happier than the milk cows in New York. The test of happiness in cows in general concerns the amount of milk they give. Milk producers are experts on cow happiness because they get more milk per cow if that cow is happy. No fooling, this is true.
     Likewise, Americans are happier than citizens of other countries and like our cows there is an external measure of happiness. It is the general freedom of Americans in the market. Disregard all of the political speech about how our country is very much in poverty. We Americans do not know poverty like people in Africa. Our poorest Americans are richer than the middle class in many countries.
     But that is not what makes Americans so happy. Rather, each and every American is free to trade their own things of value for any other American’s things of value. We get to trade for what we want in a relatively free manner. We are a country where what you want, within reason, if within reach.
      In our capitalistic system, when two Americans trade things of value, both with equal knowledge, they both come away from the trade better off than before. Hence, they are both happy. That is why the capitalistic system generates happiness since both sides of a trade get what they want or they are free to not trade. Read column

Alford to stay with Lobos for 10 more years

From - ALBUQUREQUE (KRQE) - The University of New Mexico has confirmed that Head Basketball Coach Steve Alford has signed a new 10 year contract with the Lobos. The news of Coach Steve Alford’s new contract came one day before the Lobos kicked off their NCAA Tournament run in Salt Lake City. The Lobos were on the court Wednesday taking part in their last practice before they take on the Harvard crimson Thursday.
     Coach Alford’s deal is reassuring the UNM faithful that whatever happens in the tournament, the same general will be leading the charge. “I’m just excited about,” Alford said. “I’ve had a lot of fun through six years…it's something that I think we've really started to put our imprint on the program.”
     Athletics Director Paul Krebs says UNM wanted to continue what he calls a "great era in l\Lobo basketball". In Alford’s time at New Mexico, the Lobos have won three times as many game as they've lost and have made the tournament three times.  Alford is hoping his new deal isn't a distraction for his players as they look to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.  One of those players, , his son Kory Alford, was possibly a big part in coach's decision to sign a long term deal.
     Bailing out early would cost Alford a lot of money. He would have to pay UNM $1 million if he leaves before April of 2015, $500,000 between 2015 and 2017 and $300,000 after that.  Read more

Lawmakers approve legislation to ease traffic citation confusion

Speeders and other traffic violators who now face a roadside dilemma about whether to pay a ticket or fight it in court would get a breather under a bill passed by the Legislature.  
Lawmakers were unanimous during the recent session in approving legislation that changes the sometimes-confusing traffic citation process in New Mexico.  Senate Bill 131 has gone to Gov. Susana Martinez. 
Under the proposed change, all citations would be sent to courts, rather than the current practice of having some sent to the Motor Vehicle Division.  Now, a motorist who’s stopped for speeding must decide on the spot whether to plead guilty and be issued a ticket payable to the MVD, or go to magistrate court or Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court to fight it. 


Santa Fe officials say same-sex marriage legal in NM

Santa Fe Mayor David Coss and a City Council member say New Mexico county clerks should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and Santa Fe's city attorney says it'd be legal to do so. 
Coss and Councilor Patti Bushee plan to introduce a City Council resolution on March 27 "recognizing" that same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico. They have a legal memo in which City Attorney Geno Zamara says same-sex marriage is permitted in New Mexico
Zamora says that's partly so because New Mexico law defining marriage is gender-neutral and lacks any prohibition on same-sex marriage.


Gov. in Rome for papal inauguration

Gov. Martinez

Gov. Susana Martinez is hoping Pope Francis will reinvigorate Catholics worldwide and fix any problems that are lingering from recent scandals. 
Martinez was in Rome on Tuesday with a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Joseph Biden to greet the new pope and attend his inauguration and first mass. 
She told Fox News Latino that the papal inauguration fell on the anniversary of the 2006 death of her mother Paula, who died of cancer. Martinez wants Pope Francis to bless a photo she has of her mother during her first communion.


Senator defends 11th-hour tax deal

From the Santa Fe New Mexican - By Bruce Krasnow - The chief architect of the last-minute tax deal that passed the New Mexico Legislature said he was unsure it had complete support from Gov. Susana Martinez until after she held her post-session news conference. State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said his last meeting with the governor was Friday morning, March 15, and she indicated her opposition to a provision that might force local governments to raise taxes in order to compensate for lost state revenue.
     “Friday morning she said there was no deal,” Smith told The New Mexican. “At 10:30 a.m., she turned it off and said there was no deal, but I went ahead and had it drafted.”
     The “it” Smith refers to was a comprehensive tax bill that passed the Legislature in the session’s final minute Saturday. It includes one of the governor’s priorities — a lower corporate tax rate as well as a single-sales provision to reduce taxable business income. It also includes two measures valued by Democrats — an increase in film and television production credits and a combined reporting formula for taxation so big-box retailers will have to pay taxes to New Mexico for out-of-state activities. Smith’s bill has been criticized for the way it came together — it was approved by the House in the final seconds before the constitutionally required noon Saturday adjournment — and some say the final vote was past noon.
     Rep. Stephen Easley, a freshman Democrat from Santa Fe who voted against the bill, said the last 60 minutes soured what had been a collegial and respectful 60-day session. “It was a good session, everyone was treated fairly by the speaker until the last 30 seconds, when the fix was in,” he said. “There was no debate, no discussion on this bill. That was unfortunate.”
     But Smith said that is the nature of the Legislature: “I don’t know of any other way to do it when we’re running out of time.” Read more

Next big oil boom could be in northwestern NM

Executives from some of the nation's biggest oil and gas companies say the next big oil boom could take place in northwestern New Mexico.
 The executives are in Farmington for a conference to discuss the potential for a previously untapped section of the San Juan Basin known as the Mancos shale.
 Former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici says about 1.8 billion barrels of oil could be recovered from New Mexico reservoirs in the Mancos shale, which also extends into Colorado, Utah and Wyoming
The Albuquerque Journal  says the successful extraction of oil and wet natural gas in the basin would bring relief to San Juan County.


Udall says thousands of New Mexicans owed tax refunds

U.S. Senator Tom Udall says more than 7,000 New Mexicans are owed more than $6 million by the Internal Revenue Service in unclaimed tax refunds from 2009.
 The New Mexico Democrat is reminding residents that they only have until April 15 to claim their Monday. Udall says 7,100 New Mexicans are owed a total of $6.45 million from 2009, with a median refund of $567. And any that goes unclaimed will be kept by the Treasury. 
Udall's offices says many refunds go unclaimed because filers are unaware they are eligible for a return.


State unemployment rate unchanged

New Mexico's unemployment rate in January is unchanged from December's revised rate.  
Labor officials say New Mexico's unemployment rate of 6.6 percent is an improvement over January 2012 when the rate was 7.0 percent.
 The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions says the rate of over-the-year job growth was 0.4 percent for January. That represents a gain of 3,500. 
The largest employment gains were reported by the leisure and hospitality industry, which added 2,000 jobs since last year. The financial activities industry added 1,500 jobs.


Lottery scholarship program may be in danger

From - by Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - It was a must-do job for the state legislature – and it didn’t get done. Now thousands of New Mexico college students on lottery scholarships are wondering if they’ll be able to stay in school.
     Analysts say the scholarship fund will be $5 million in the red by July, with more and more students becoming eligible and tuition costs going higher and higher. At the same time, lottery ticket sales are on a downward slide. Less money coming in – more money going out. You don’t have to be a math major to figure out it’s going belly-up.
     The lottery scholarships are good for full tuition at New Mexico’s public universities and community colleges and other public higher education institutions. Students must graduate from a New Mexico high school or get a GED here, and maintain a grade point average of 2.5. In the 60 day legislative session that ended Saturday, lawmakers considered a proposal to raise that grade point average to 2.75, which would reduce the number of eligible students. That bill died in committee. Other proposals included limits on family income for scholarship recipients, and diverting money from the state’s tobacco settlement income. Nothing passed.
     For now, the state Higher Education Department seems to be willing to let the scholarships stagger on, awash in red ink – hoping that next year lawmakers can forge some kind of agreement. Read more

Iraq veteran family awarded $10 million in damages

Kenneth Ellis

Jurors have awarded more than $10 million in damages in the civil case of an Iraq War veteran who was fatally shot by an Albuquerque police officer three years ago. 
Jurors announced the verdict Friday after several hours of deliberation. 
The case stems from Officer Brett Lampiris-Tremba's 2010 shooting of Kenneth Ellis during a standoff in front of a convenience store. 
Ellis suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. According to police, Lampiris-Tremba shot Ellis once in the neck after the veteran pointed a gun to his own head.


Airline to offer flights from Santa Fe to Phoenix

Great Lakes Aviation says it plans to begin offering flights between Santa Fe and Phoenix starting in May.

 The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the airline already flies from Santa Fe to Denver and Clovis. However, the flights to southeastern New Mexico will end with the addition of the Phoenix connection. 

The airline's announcement comes as the Santa Fe Municipal Airport waits to find out whether its control tower might lose its federal employees due to automatic budget cuts. Airport director Jim Montman says that decision won't be made until March 22.

 Advertised online fares for the Great Lakes flights between Santa Fe and Phoenix start at $89 for a nonrefundable one-way ticket on a twin-engine turboprop airplane.

Breaking Bad bill gets second chance

New Mexico's "Breaking Bad" bill will get a second chance at being signed by Gov. Susana Martinez. 

The original bill was vetoed by Martinez, but the original parts of the bill were absorbed into a larger tax package over the weekend. Martinez said she's happy with the proposal. 

Even after a long day of filming one of the last episodes of "Breaking Bad," actor Bryan Cranston kept an eye on the Legislature and the future of the bill. 

The bill increases the amount of return incentives to 30% from the previous 25%.  

Co-star and Albuquerque native Steven Michael Quezada said the bill will help him produce his own independent series, "Duke City." 

Cranston said the issue goes beyond the financial incentives. Additional incentives mean more jobs for New Mexicans working behind the camera.

NCAA: Lobos get West 3 seed, Aggies get Midwest 13 seed

From - The Aggies and Lobos men's basketball teams now know where they will be dancing in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The New Mexico Lobos picked up a No. 3 seed in the West region. The Lobos will face No. 14 Harvard in their first game. The Lobos and Harvard will battle Thursday March 21, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tip off is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. MDT.
     The WAC tournament champion New Mexico State Aggies will face the No. 4 seed St. Louis Billikins in the Midwest region. The Aggies are the No. 13 seed and will play Thursday March 21, in San Jose California. The Aggies take a No. 13 seed and will play No. 4 St. Louis. The game is Thursday March 21, in San Jose, Calif. Tip off is scheduled for 12:10 MT.
     Both games will be aired on TNT. Read more

Bill mandating background checks at gunshows heads to Senate floor as clock ticks

From Capitol Report New Mexico - The only gun control bill left standing in the current 60-day legislative session passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee in a vote that came at 11:23 p.m. Thursday (March 14), with just a day and a half left in the 60-day legislative session. House Bill 77, which requires background checks in an effort to close what gun control advocates call the gun show loophole, passed on a 6-4 vote, with all the Democrats on the committee voting yes and all Republicans voting no. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.
     “This is a good bill that we worked on with representatives on the other side of the aisle,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque. Supporters and critics of HB77 waited well into the night to watch the proceedings and voice their opinions to the committee members who voted on the bill without debate. The bill — which already passed through the House and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez indicated she’d sign — now has to beat the clock.
     If the Senate (where Democrats hold a 25-17 advantage) passes the bill in a floor vote, it would then have to go back to the House for concurrence because HB77 was amended slightly in an earlier Senate committee. Concurrence can happen relatively quickly but there’s no guarantee as the Legislature will adjourn at noon on Saturday. Read more

It's battle of the budget as session nears end

From - by Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - State lawmakers will wrap up their sixty day session on Saturday, but the odds are they will be back in a special session. Gov. Susana Martinez says she will veto the budget bill and call lawmakers back in to come up with another one. Senate Finance Committee chairman John Arthur Smith said talks continue with the Martinez administration, but there is no deal at this point. Martinez can't live with the budget that lawmakers crafted. Among other things, it leaves out $3 million in extra pay for outstanding teachers. Martinez also wants bigger tax cuts for businesses. New Mexico's corporate income tax rate is the highest in the region.
     "What the legislature has to do is have the desire and have the courage to put our kids first and to put our economy first, especially with the federal sequestration cuts looming over us we have to diversify our economy," she said. Democratic lawmakers say they're stunned that they will have to comeback in a special session over a $3 million difference in a budget that totals almost $6 billion.
     "The reality is that we would have to wait a couple weeks at least for people to go home and take care of any business, and then come back," said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat. "I don't think she would try to keep us here beyond Saturday, but I don't know. This is a Governor who doesn't disclose her information to us freely."
     A special session will cost the taxpayers about $40,000 a day, and that's on top of the regular session that's costing New Mexican's more than $8 million. Look for a special session sometime before the middle of May. That's mainly because the public schools will need budgets in place so they can do contracts with teachers and buy books and equipment and supplies for the school year that starts in August. Read more

Lawmakers approve change in email disclosure

New Mexico lawmakers have approved a policy that could shield legislators' email from disclosure through public records requests. 
The new legislative rule will govern how the Legislature handles requests under the Inspection of Public Records Act, which grants access to records about public business with certain exceptions, such as trade secrets. 
Legislators contend that much of their communication with constituents and others about legislation should remain confidential. Some lawmakers use email through personal accounts rather than a legislative email system. 
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government opposes the new records policy and disagrees with lawmakers who contend the state constitution provides special protections exempting legislative email from public disclosure.


Interior Secretary to settle northern NM water dispute

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be in New Mexico to finalize the latest settlement of a decades-long water rights battle in northern New Mexico
The Interior Department says Salazar will be meeting Thursday in Santa Fe with pueblo leaders from Tesuque, Nambe, Pojoaque and San Ildefonso. 
The water rights settlement was one of four included in legislation signed by President Barack Obama in 2011 that was aimed at delivering clean drinking water to tribes in New Mexico, Arizona and Montana
Under the agreement, a regional water system will be built to serve the four New Mexico pueblos and their neighbors. The federal government, the state and Santa Fe County will share the cost of building the system. 
The price tag has been estimated at more than $177 million.


Tainted heroin prevalent in San Miguel County

Authorities in northern New Mexico's San Miguel County say tainted heroin has caused one death and several hospitalizations among people booked into the county jail in Las Vegas in the past month. 
Detention Center Warden Patrick Snedeker says officials are using medical screenings and other steps to try to detect warning signs of use of contaminated heroin as people are taken into custody. 
Snedeker says symptoms include seizures, hyperventilation, hallucinations and dangerous changes in vital signs. 
He says the first case was when a 41-year-old woman died Feb. 19, a week after she was stricken at the jail and hospitalized.
According to the Las Vegas Optic, jail officials then began seeing the same symptoms in other inmates who were long-term chronic heroin users.


PERA proposal clears legislature

A proposal to improve the long-term finances of a pension plan for state and local government workers has cleared the Legislature and heads to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.  
The legislation would change benefits offered by the Public Employees Retirement Association, which has a $6 billion gap between its assets and the cost of future retirement benefits.
 The pension system covers nearly 90,000 state and local government workers and retirees. If signed into law by the governor, the legislation would lower yearly cost-of-living adjustments for pension benefits.
 The measure also would establish new retirement eligibility and benefits for employees hired after July 1.


Making the failing educational system worse

Commentary by Michael Swickard, Ph.D. Almost all of our societal angst about education concentrates on students who do not wish to learn. Consider: can we force students to learn? Imagine if cattle prods were used. “What is the capital of South Dakota?” Wrong. Zap. That might work in the short term, but they will be flinchy about learning forever. And, there would be that messy business about human rights.
     The second problem is the effect over the last thirty years of the rapidly expanding administration. In the 1960s there were few administrators. How did they know if teachers were good? The principal walked into classes and talked with parents and students. The principal knew who was good and who needed help.
     We no longer trust principals to administer, they instead coordinate legions of experts who spend their time trying to find things to justify their employment. Most teachers would really like the bloated administration to leave them alone to teach since that is their role.
     Teachers say the administrative experts who cannot themselves teach assume all teachers are the same and all students are the same. They want each teacher to listen to them rather than concentrating on educating students. There has been a tsunami of accountability tests in the last twenty years that trump real teaching.
     Everyone now spends almost all of their time in concern for the administrative tests rather than student learning. What the students need is to quit spending the entire year getting ready for the teacher accountability tests and just spend it learning.
     An example of goofy experts: a teacher was called to a meeting with an expert who said, “Do not use the SF basal readers.” The teacher shrugged, “OK, do you have a different basal for me to use?”
     “No,” the expert said.
     “But you want me to use a basal as I teach reading?” the teacher asked.
     “Of course,” The expert answered, “Just do not use the SF basal you are using right now.”
     No wonder teachers cringe when the experts show up. They are overwhelmed with well-paid experts who cannot hit water from a boat. They know that politically every student in America must be above average or there will be hell to pay. Read column